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It’s Not Graffiti ... It’s Science

Friday, January 6, 2017

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If a trio heads into the rocky terrain of the Swiss Alps with buckets of paint and brushes in hand, your first guess might be that some fresh graffiti was about to appear.

A partnership of Swiss and German researchers, however, is putting paint on the area’s rocks for science, according to joint announcements from the research institutions.

In this case, the application of paint helps the team to visualize the spatial distribution of erosive processes in areas where installing traditional measuring devices proves too complicated.

Erosion painting test area
Alexander Beer, Eidg. Forschungsanstalt WSL

A team of Swiss and German scientists have painted the rocky terrain of a gorge in the Swiss Alps in order to analyze the physics of erosion; the removal of coatings in the "erosion painting" areas shows where erosion is taking place.

Researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences (Potsdam); Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL (Birmensdorf); and Department of Environmental System Sciences (Zurich) recently published their work in Earth Surface Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Testing ‘Erosion Painting’

The scientists tested their “erosion painting” method in the Gornera gorge outside Zermatt. There, they painted horizontal and vertical stripe patterns on rock faces within a 150-square-meter area.

An environmentally friendly, water-soluble latex paint was used, and they avoided applying it in “sensitive areas” to minimize impact on the environment, according to reports.

The team monitored the area by taking photographs from specific points over a period of three years, then determined where erosion had taken place based on a visual analysis of where paint had shifted or been removed.  

Simple, Low-Cost Method

The knowledge gained through this process helps scientists better understand the physics behind erosion, the team reported.

Moreover, the study itself introduces a new method within process research, the researchers added—one that is relatively quick and easy when compared to the traditional use of expensive equipment and sensors, fixed monitoring stations and the like.

Although the team did employ laser scanning to validate its method, the scientists found that the scans weren’t able to show the changes with the same level of fine detail that their painting method does.

“Using paint is a cheap and simple method to analyze the spatial distribution of erosive processes,” explained Jens Turowski of the GFZ. “With this study we would like to show that this method can be applied for science.”


Tagged categories: Outdoor weathering; Paint application; Research and development

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